It is only within the last year that I have become a "public adoptee." I have been writing, talking and sharing my views about being a transracial/transnational adptee for years, but in the past year a bunch of projects I’d been working on all merged together. One of these projects is this blog.
If I write personal stories, everyone says, "Thanks for sharing such a personal story." If it’s a "Let’s all get along" post, I get lots of "Amens!"
But I’ll admit that every time I press the "publish" button for a new post that offers a critique, I brace myself for all the comments that I will receive. I will receive at least one from someone who thinks that I’m attacking adoptive parents.
When this happens, I find myself again wondering if I have to resort to commenting back that I don’t hate adoptive parents. Instead of the content of my post, the focus shifts to whether or not I’m calling out on adoptive parents.
My last post is a perfect example of this. I got called on for stereotyping adoptive parents.
Even though at no time did I say that these arguments were only spoken or written by adoptive parents.
In fact, many of them have been said by other transracial adoptees, and also
by those not personally connected to adoption. Some of these quotes are attributed to adoption social workers, or people whose friends/family
members had adopted. Some are just by John Q. Public.
The whole point of my essay is that people use these rhetorical strategies to avoid talking about the difficult aspects of transracial and transnational adoption. The language and rhetoric used in discussing adoption is an important thing to consider. The intent of the last post was not,
"oh, all adoptive parents say these things." Please read that post
again; there was only one sentence that referred to "my daughter" in
the entire post, and that is because it is a direct quote from an
adoptive parent (and it is a common sentiment written by adoptive parents and adoption agencies), not because I believe ALL adoptive parents say this.
I know there are some adoptive parents who do not
assume I’m attacking them. They understand this is not about them, but about what their transracially or transnationally adopted
children might experience someday. And would you be surprised to know that I’ve learned some important things from adoptive parents? Things that made me step back and challenge my own assumptions?
It’s true – and it is because the dialogue does not resort to stereotypes and the kinds of arguments offered in my last post.
Books like "In Their Own Voices" are great. Their "positive" stories offer so much to the discussion of adoption. But it would be just as mistaken to think their voices are the only ones, and discount other accounts and opinions just because it makes the reader more comfortable.
We focus so much on children and adoptive parents, and what I am trying so desperately to get across is that we children grow up. And as much as we want to protect them from any pain, many of them will come to a point where they a) want to connect with other transracially adopted adults (i.e. people like me) and b) might question their own adoption experience.
In the past year, I have been contacted by dozens of transracial
adoptees who have found my blog. They are all adults. And what they say
is almost a script. Statements like, I never really thought about my adoption/racial identity until . . . college/marriage/having children. And, I’ve always felt so isolated.
Most of these adoptees have good relationships with their adoptive
parents. Most of them love them to death and don’t "regret" their
adoptions. But all have in common a feeling of "where do I fit in" and
a sense of ambiguous loss, which I will discuss more in my next post.
Several have said things like, "my world is turning upside down."
They write to me because for the first time, someone has put into words
what they have felt but did not have the language for; or just
that perhaps their experiences resonated with what I wrote. These adoptees are only a small fraction of those out there, but knowing they’ve found something relatable has reinforced my belief that my voice, as critical as it can be at times, is the reason I continue to blog.
When I was 30 years old, I was a "happy, adjusted adoptee." There were many things about my adoption experience that were negative, and many that were positive. I just never told anyone about the negative. I did the adoptee version of the hustle and jive for other folks. You know, telling them what they wanted to hear while inside, I was cringing at my own words. You know what changed? I met other Korean adoptees. Know what they said? They ‘d had the same experiences I had growing up; the same thoughts, the same feeling of walking in two worlds and fitting in with neither, the same racial incidents at school, church and homes. They were trying to find the balance between their adoptive parents and their own personal journey. Protecting their parents feelings, or being true to their own.
Many of you know that I am a social worker. Most of you probably do not know that I work in the field of adoptions.
I work for a public child welfare agency, working with children in the
foster care system who are in need of adoptive families. That means I
work with prospective adoptive parents who are looking to adopt.
The reason I am critical at times is because we are dealing with children who have experienced tremendous loss in their life. I don’t believe that ignorance is bliss; we need to have our eyes wide open to what is happening around us in the field of adoption because we are talking about our society’s most vulnerable people.
So yes, it may hurt adoptive parents’ feelings to know that I think of the children and their needs as a higher priority than theirs. I am not going to apologize for that and here is the reason why.
Two of my foster care kids were removed from their first mother because of neglect (chemical dependency issues) but they were not abused – and adopted into a home where they were terribly physically and emotionally abused for six years before child protection removed them. Several others on my case load were in pre-adoptive placements that disrupted (meaning the adoptive parents decided at not to adopt, after the kids had lived with them several months for the purpose of adoption).
I believe that it is the responsibility of the social work profession to do a better job for these children.
I believe strongly in educating adoptive parents about the risks and the realities of adoptive parenting, and I think post-adoption services to adoptive parents/families are very poor in this country. I am working on that end as well. We can’t have children in good homes unless we work with adoptive parents. It does not make sense that I would advocate for children without advocating for adoptive parents as well.
My supervisors know that I have this blog. My colleagues also know. As a "public adoptee" I have to be aware of my actions and how I am perceived in both my professional and personal spheres. My fellow colleagues in my agency know that I am one to critique practice. I’m not just critiquing adoptive parents – I also critique my own agency’s practice, and that of other agencies and the state child welfare policies that govern how we work for society.
Do you now think differently of my critiques? Knowing that I place children in adoptive families, and many of them transracially? If I stereotyped adoptive parents, do you think I could sleep at night knowing the children I work for are being placed in homes where I secretly thought poorly of the adoptive parents? Does knowing my credentials and my professional career make you think of my critiques in a different way?
Because they shouldn’t.